PARIS – Amid the coronavirus lockdown in France, charity workers are preparing more than a thousand meals a day for migrants and the homeless on the half-abandoned grounds of a former Paris hospital whose patron saint was devoted to the poor.
France’s Aurore association, a charity dating back to the 19th century, has been serving meals at the former Saint Vincent de Paul hospital since March 24, a week into the nationwide confinement to stem the spread of the virus.
Part of the complex was converted in 2015 to host non-profits and artisans, a day center for asylum-seekers and three transitional housing centers. Florie Gaillard, who works for the association, said everyone who lives in the transitional housing is under confinement there, the offices are closed, and the usual crowd at the day center is in shelters. But the need is still there.
“There was an entire informal economy that existed before that is no longer there,” said Gaillard. “People who begged, or who knew which restaurant would give them a meal at the end of the evening, were in need.”
An Associated Press photographer spent an afternoon this week chronicling the Aurore center, from the researcher who volunteers to fill the days since losing access to her university to the aid recipients who, for various reasons, have nowhere else to go.
There are two spaces: one for meals, which accepts around 300 people a day and sends out a thousand pre-packed bags for local charities to distribute, and the day center. The latter can only accept 70 people at a time in compliance with France’s rules on keeping individuals distanced from each other.
Both are crucial, say those who come for the temporary help.
“We’re on a slippery slope,” said one of the men. “We climb, we climb and when we reach the top we slide back down.”